On Thursday, Oct. 1, during a taping of SportsCenter, one of the producers came across a highlight from a soccer game in Cedarville, Ohio. “You make a top play, we find you,” anchor Stan Verrett said.
The highlight featured a corner kick in the 81st minute, when a diving pass off the corner found the left foot of Cedarville’s forward Connor Gilmour, who promptly scissor-kicked the ball in-between a defender and the keeper. The goal sealed a 2-1 win for Cedarville over Mercyhurst.
That “top play” is an example of how the Mercyhurst men’s soccer team is struggling this season under Head Coach Nenad Vidokavić, and the after-effects of losing star forward, senior Jack Watson.
Now more than halfway into the regular season, the Lakers find themselves at 4-7. They have lost all six of their non-conference contests, and sit very uneasy among themselves in competition with consistent defense but an abnormally low attack.
Watson, who tore his ACL in the spring, was forced to redshirt this season. He led the Lakers to the PSAC title and the third round of the NCAA Tournament last season.
Without Watson leading the charge, it appears the Lakers attack is disorganized and the Lakers have been forced to adjust.
Watson’s 22 goals and 53 points propelled him to Offensive Player of the Year honors–both in the PSAC and the ECAC–surpassing the Lakers efforts this season as an entire squad.
The Lakers averaged just 1.18 goals per game over their first 11 contests, compared to 3.09 last season. Vidaković’s team is also allowing 1.55 goals per game, compared to just .95 last season.
“It’s devastating at first, because we relied on him,” said senior Tyler Peterseim, “and I think we’re past having him now in the offense, but overall, I think we’ve come a long way from where we started in the beginning of the season.”
No player on the team has scored more than two goals this season, a number currently shared by redshirt senior Thomas Davis, senior Sten Marcson and junior Joseph Korb.
This season’s goals, assists, shots and per-game averages are currently on-pace to be lower by a considerable margin. The majority of last season’s attacks were attributed to Watson’s scoring, including nine assists and 54 shots-on-goal.
In describing Gilmour’s goal, the broadcast also noted redshirt senior Mark Roche’s placement at the time.
“Talking point for the Lakers was, why do you ever leave Gilmour open?” questioned the lead commentator. “And really the defender [Roche] is on the wrong side of the post, he needs to be inside the post, and maybe he [can] stop that.”
The goal resulted from Roche being too close to the left post and the ball careening off his knee and into the netting behind him.
However, the Lakers are improving on the other side of the ball, but are failing to generate enough attack to complement it.
“I think we’ve had a lot of scoring opportunities in each game, but sometimes it hasn’t been enough to keep up with the [non-conference] teams that have had a lot more scoring opportunities. Therefore, our lack of scoring power in some of our previous matches has put more of a pressure on our defense, and sometimes we catch ourselves defending too much and not on the other side of the ball,” Peterseim said.
The Lakers are outscored, 12-3, in their non-conference matches this season. Their failure to win a non-conference game is a first time occurence since 2006.
Those who were supposed to step up in scoring in place of Watson have been primarily contained. Despite the comparable defense, opponents are containing the Lakers to 13 goals on 127 shots and just nine assists as an entire squad.
Most notable is senior Richard van Horne, who has only recorded two assists in five matches this season and has not registered in the box-score since Sept. 15.
Peterseim attributes the containment to the loss of Watson’s athleticism.
“Jack’s a one-of-a-kind player; and before last year,we had Jack as our main scoring threat because we knew we could always play the long-ball to him. But he was also making great runs off the ball, even when the ball wasn’t played to him,” Peterseim said.
Six Lakers started all 22 matches last season. This season, only Marcson, Korb, and Eyale Dagne have started all 11 games with Davis and Roche starting in 10.
Peterseim remains confident in terms of the amount of sheer talent that is on the current squad.
“As long as we play together and we don’t play selfishly, it’s really going to show how much talent we do have, but we’re only going to be able to do that if we play together as a team,” Peterseim said.